The FCC must not lock down device firmware!

The following is a comment I just filed on FCC Docket 15-170, “Amendment of Parts 0, 1, 2, 15, and 18 of the Commission’s Rules et al.”

Thirty years ago I had a small hand in the design of the Internet. Since then I’ve become a senior member of the informal collegium that maintains key pieces of it. You rely on my code every time you use a browser or a smartphone or an ATM. If you ever ride in a driverless car, the nav system will critically depend on code I wrote, and Google Maps already does. Today I’m deeply involved in fixing Internet time service.

I write to endorse the filings by Dave Taht and Bruce Perens (I gave Dave Taht a bit of editorial help). I’m submitting an independent comment because while I agree with the general thrust of their recommendations I think they may not go far enough.

The present state of router and wireless-access-point firmware is nothing short of a disaster with grave national-security implications. I know of people who say that could use firmware exploits to take down targeted and arbitrarily large swathes of the public Internet. I believe them because I’m pretty sure I could figure out how to do that myself in three weeks or so if I wanted to.

So far we have been lucky. The specialized technical knowledge required for Internet disruption on a massive scale is mostly confined to a small cadre of old hands like Vint Cerf and Dave Taht and myself. *We* don’t want to disrupt the internet; we created it and we love it. But the threat from others not so benign is a real and present danger.

Cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism are on the rise, with no shortage of malefactors ready to employ them. The Communist Chinese are not just a theoretical threat, they have already run major operations like the OPM crack. Add the North Koreans, the Russians, and the Iranians to a minimum list of those who might plausibly acquire the know-how to turn our own infrastructure against us in disastrous ways.

The effect of locking down router and WiFi firmware as these rules contemplate would be to lock irreparably in place the bugs and security vulnerabilities we now have. To those like myself who know or can guess the true extent of those vulnerabilities, this is a terrifying possibility.

I believe there is only one way to avoid a debacle: mandated device upgradeability and mandated open-source licensing for device firmware so that the security and reliability problems can be swarmed over by all the volunteer hands we can recruit. This is an approach proven to work by the Internet ubiquity and high reliability of the Linux operating system.

In these recommendations I go a bit beyond where Taht and Perens are willing to push. Dave Taht is willing to settle for a mandate of *inspectable* source without a guarantee of permission to modify and redistribute; experience with such arrangements warns me that they scale poorly and are usually insufficient. Bruce Perens is willing to settle for permitting/licensing requirements which I believe would be both ineffective and suppressive of large-scale cooperation.

The device vendors aren’t going to solve the security and reliability problem, because they can’t profit from solving it and they’re generally running on thin margins as it is. Thus, volunteer hackers like myself (and thousands of others) are the only alternative.

We have the skill. We have the desire. We have a proud tradition of public service and mutual help. But you have to *let us do it* – and, to the extent it is in your remit, you have to make the device vendors let us do it.

There is precedent. Consider the vital role of radio hams in coordinating disaster relief. The FCC understands that it is in the public interest to support their and enable their voluntarism. In an Internetted age, enabling our voluntarism is arguably even more important.

Mandated device upgradeability. Mandated open source for firmware. It’s not just a good idea, it should be the law.

142 thoughts on “The FCC must not lock down device firmware!

  1. I’m a little confused here. Eric, you’re more libertarian than I am, but here you are arguing that the government should *mandate* certain restrictions on device manufacturers. Is this a sincere desire, or merely a negotiation position, to counterbalance the actual proposed rules, in hopes that the final rulemaking is somewhat reasonable?

  2. >I’m a little confused here. Eric, you’re more libertarian than I am, but here you are arguing that the government should *mandate* certain restrictions on device manufacturers. Is this a sincere desire, or merely a negotiation position, to counterbalance the actual proposed rules, in hopes that the final rulemaking is somewhat reasonable.

    Thank you, I was expecting this question. :-)

    I view closed-source device firmware as an instance of a common-law crime called “conversion”. This is how lawyers describe the act of withholding or denying someone control of their their legal property, while not claiming to actually own it. While the term is most commonly applied to right-of-way cases involving real property, it can also be applied to sums of money or moveable goods.

    What I am doing, in libertarian terms, is asking the FCC to forbid router vendors from committing conversion by claiming to convey property (the router) to their customers, but denying the customers actual control of it.

  3. Anthony, in the real world, the market can’t solve all problems because there’s no money in solving them. That’s when government has to step in and force key actors to solve them, or at least play nice so they can be solved.

    I’m a bit surprised and delighted to see Eric support this view in his FCC filing. And yet…

    As I mentioned before, part of the FCC’s job is to regulate the spectrum and ensure that no radio interference that threatens military, police, or wide-scale commercial broadcasts takes place with unlicensed unmodified consumer equipment. They’re not particularly against open source, but they’re not particularly for it either. The openness of wireless firmware is but one consideration that needs to be balanced against the other factors. The only way to have your cake and eat it too in this regard is to isolate the wireless PHY from the router CPU in such a way that the CPU cannot possibly instruct the PHY to transmit in unlicensed frequencies or power ranges. That’s going to add significant NRE costs to each router model and may require creating different models with different PHYs for countries with different allowable wifi bands. So there will be pushback from the manufacturers on this; and they can pay for better lobbyists than we can.

  4. >Anthony, in the real world, the market can’t solve all problems because there’s no money in solving them. That’s when government has to step in and force key actors to solve them, or at least play nice so they can be solved.

    Play nice. When government steps in, it generally fucks up – this proposed ruling being a pluperfect example.

  5. >The recent VW testing fraud should support this!

    Yes, that’s a point Dave Taht did a pretty good job of making in his filing.

  6. > Thank you, I was expecting this question. :-)

    This is a little baffling (and I don’t see how under your legal theory they couldn’t get around this by simply not conveying ownership) but it’s at least more clearly stated than most of the other arguments against closed-source.

    I do have to wonder though why, if this is your sincerely held view, you’re not as adamantly anti-closed-source as RMS.

  7. > The effect of locking down router and WiFi firmware as these rules contemplate would be to lock irreparably in place the bugs and security vulnerabilities we now have. To those like myself who know or can guess the true extent of those vulnerabilities, this is a terrifying possibility.

    You could in principle put your physical WiFi hardware outside the DMZ, and use a VPN to guarantee security. It can’t be insecure if it’s not in charge of security.

  8. What I am doing, in libertarian terms, is asking the FCC to forbid router vendors from committing conversion by claiming to convey property (the router) to their customers, but denying the customers actual control of it.

    Is it a feature that this might be construed to constitue a ban on iPhones and the like as we know them? :)

  9. I think the most likely future for cell phones in a world where this is banned is that cell phones are exclusively rented, not sold. [Incidentally since you have no equity you’re liable for the full price if you lose or break it]. Most people already pay for it over the course of two years anyway. Would they even notice if their ability to acquire ownership rights were taken away?

  10. I just wander how on the same premises “we want to improve” these who want to control and spy, want to lock devices even more, but these who care about software and freedom want to make it open…

  11. > experience with such arrangements warns me that they scale poorly and are usually insufficient

    Do they need to scale, to serve the security needs you’ve actually outlined? Infrastructure-wide security vulnerabilities don’t get fixed by individual hobbyists loading software on their hardware because they can. There has to be a release and deployment process for it to have any chance of actually fixing the problem. And that would be done either by the manufacturer or some other large organization, a million different fixes to the same bug would be wasteful.

  12. The proposed FCC regulation looks like it is movie-plot driven; it is not response for real danger, but to a story. Instead of mandating restrictive technical solution that makes things worse in other areas, increase punishment for breaking the non-interference.

    Anyway, another good example of how OSS is crucial is bufferbloat work, where IMVHO solution (CoDel algorithm and its derivatives) would be not possible without OSS routers testing it in real life (CeroWRT)…

  13. >I don’t see how under your legal theory they couldn’t get around this by simply not conveying ownership

    They could. But that is irrelevant since they *do* make that claim – and by withdrawing it they would be a clear don’t-buy-this signal to consumers.

    >I do have to wonder though why, if this is your sincerely held view, you’re not as adamantly anti-closed-source as RMS.

    Our views about firmware blobs do not differ substantially, AFAIK.

    I make some distinctions Richard does not that leave me less adamantly anti-closed-source in some other (non-firmware) cases.

  14. >Is it a feature that this might be construed to constitue a ban on iPhones and the like as we know them? :)

    Why, yes. Yes, it is.

  15. And that would be done either by the manufacturer or some other large organization, a million different fixes to the same bug would be wasteful.

    For the specific case of routers, I wonder if the most noticeable effect of mandating open source firmware would be the sudden ubiquity of tomato, dd-wrt, et al. If vendors were made to use OSS anyway, why not take what’s already there and not have to pay for their own development?

    In which case the centralized bug-fixing would be done by the maintainers and contributors of those projects.

    I honestly don’t understand why more vendors don’t do this already; I can’t speak to the nuts and bolts, but proprietary router UIs are universally terrible. Seems like “provide better software to our customers while simultaneously cutting development costs” would be an obvious win.

  16. > They could. But that is irrelevant since they *do* make that claim – and by withdrawing it they would be a clear don’t-buy-this signal to consumers.

    Spoiler alert, no it wouldn’t. You overestimate how much typical consumers care about this. By, like, a lot. And you’ve just priced the atypical consumers who do care about it out of the market.

  17. Hell, the arrangement between you (where “you” is a typical consumer) and your phone company regarding your phone equipment is looking more and more like a rental every time I step into a phone store even without this.

  18. “>Is it a feature that this might be construed to constitue a ban on iPhones and the like as we know them? :)”

    This implication has gone over my head. Would appreciate an explanation.

  19. Random, I suspect you are underestimating the number of consumers whose purchasing decisions are strongly influenced by their tech savvy family and friends.

    I’m also reasonably sure that the army of people who must comply with privacy laws might rightly be sued into using phones they do own if a data breech is ever traced to a rented device.

  20. ww,

    Eric is justifying that the FCC ban closed firmware by an appeal to the crime of conversion, which is ostensibly selling someone something while withholding the rights of full ownership. Such a ban by the FCC is justifiable because it prevents conversion on the part of the router manufacturers.

    But if you apply that to routers, it can and should also be applied to smartphones with locked firmware, game consoles, and all manner of locked, networked devices.

    Good luck getting any traction with that argument, though; proprietary software is vital to the US economy so ISVs’ lobbyists have a lot of pull. And the courts have sided with the interpretation that no sale takes place for proprietary software under a license.

  21. A more likely outcome, given closed source is not going away, would be to eliminate the ability of vendors to lock things like bootloaders. I have a supposedly open-source operating system on my phone, but since Motorola and Verizon have locked the bootloader, I can only load their approved operating system on my device — which I bought outright from Motorola.

    Meanwhile there’s no “jailbreak” process required for most consumer routers to run open-source firmware on them. Try running anything but Cisco’s firmware on their devices — you can’t. But they’ve tied up a part of that in proprietary hardware too.

  22. >They could. But that is irrelevant since they *do* make that claim – and by withdrawing it they would be a clear don’t-buy-this signal to consumers.

    I wouldn’t put trying that above them. EULAs attempt to pull all kind of legal stunts.

  23. “And the courts have sided with the interpretation that no sale takes place for proprietary software under a license.” We are, though, to be clear, talking about the sale of hardware.

  24. > brian on 2015-10-07 at 18:24:19 said:
    > A more likely outcome, given closed source is not going away, would be to eliminate the ability of > vendors to lock things like bootloaders. I have a supposedly open-source operating system on my > phone, but since Motorola and Verizon have locked the bootloader, I can only load their approved > operating system on my device — which I bought outright from Motorola.

    I think its more sinister in the Motorola case. They’ll happily provide you a boot loader unlock key, and in turn void your warranty. If they refunded some amount of money prorated on the expected life of the phone, or average warranty claim, then this might be OK, but they don’t.

  25. They can try to control guns and firmware.
    Both are futile.
    Yet the innocent will suffer when good men aren’t allowed to act.

  26. I have limited knowledge of this topic, but this is my understanding of how devices such as routers work. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    All routers begin life as an assembly of manufactured hardware. Nothing happens until you supply it with electricity. Then the device wakes up and loads some resident software that came with it. Now the device can perform some basic functions, which includes the ability to load additional software and increase its functionality.

    The first level of software to become operative is often imprinted onto a chip and cannot be changed. The second level of software to load is capable of being reprogrammed, but requires an onsite action or permissive to implement. In some cases, additional levels of software can be loaded, and this step can be performed remotely if access is obtained.

    Malware can exist at the first level if the manufacturer is complicit (NSA backdoor mandate). Malware can occur at the second level if the human operator is deceived or deceitful.
    Malware can occur via remote implementation if clever crackers work hard enough and long enough.

    Some diseases are rooted in DNA dysfunction (first level).
    Some diseases occur because of human causation, such as a lifelong smoking habit.
    Some diseases can be inflicted by bad actors, such as biological warfare.

    In nature, evolution occurs when the weak die off and the strong survive. If open-sourced firmware produces are more robust router, then these devices will persist. However, the interregnum might be a pisser.

  27. Having dealt with spectrum regulation, certification and compliance here in .au, I rather think a lot of people have completely missed the point: the FCC wants to know that the proof of conformance in your device applications with the FCC – that is, the *expensive* certified test reports demonstrating your compliance in their jurisdiction – will remain valid no matter what the user does to it, before they’ll hand you a device approval number.

    The “how will you block Eg. DD-WRT being loaded onto your device” wording was found in a bureaucratic, administrative form designed to aid assessors in understanding device approval applications. If you read the whole damn 4 pages, which I think nobody really has, you’ll see there’s a lot of redundancy, not to mention that answering in the negative to forms such as these (which are updated all the time, often whimsically, according to operational needs and feedback) is not an automatic rejection: you are merely required to justify to the assessor how you are meeting the intent of the regulations.

    So the issue is, if a U-NII device configured for Japan is turned on in the USA it will stomp all over licensed spectrum. It’s that simple. 5GHz is carved up rather differently all over the world, unlike 2.4GHz WiFi which is a fairly consistent ISM band all over the world. Here’s a brief look at just some of the other licensed spectrum users who are being forced to share with us filthy U-NII plebs: https://wirednot.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/what-else-is-in-the-5-ghz-spectrum-hint-its-not-just-weather-radar/

    As far back as 2013, the development of these new U-NII rules even at one point contemplated having APs broadcast unique identifiers to better help the FCC hunt down rogue emitters. This is about avoiding the 2.4GHz mess in the already complex allocations for 5GHz. U-NII manufacturers will have to demonstrate effective radar avoidance and other interference-limiting algorithms. In the *radio* firmware.

    It seems as if from one of the older ROs (I’ve since lost it) that the clumsy DD-WRT wording and desire to “allow authorized firmware only” was even suggested by a WiFi manufacturer earlier on in the U-NII consultation process. Probably, the FCC took that on board and didn’t bother to have the imagination to think that this would upset anyone.

    But the intent of the regulations are to ensure devices are making compliant emissions at all times, regardless of whatever a user might do to it (including the use of 3rd-party firmware). I don’t see anywhere that requires a host device to implement the new security measures unless that’s the only way you can demonstrate that your device will remain compliant under all possible user interactions.

    Finally, people are massively confusing the difference between the piece the FCC cares about – the firmware driving the transmitter module (such as the baseband firmware in your phone, which you’ll note has a separate version to the main OS!) and the operating system that may be running on a host device.

    It seems to me, after reviewing the various publications and actual NPRMs, the FCC doesn’t seem to care how you prevent out-of-spec emissions from happening, just that you do it. For those of us already using opaque, undocumented, closed-source radio blobs in our WiFi drivers, meeting the new U-NII rules might be as simple as adjusting the silicon so that the blob is signed.

    So, if manufacturers are so half-arsed that they can only think to do it by blocking updates to the host device as well, that’s a genuine loss, and indeed saddening. What’s more amazing to me personally will be the brave new world of “region-locked” wireless devices. OEMs and importers will have to have some way of finalizing/fixing the country/compliance jurisdiction before they can slap FCC stickers on their stuff.

    However, if the longevity of the Linksys WRT54GL “Linux” versions is anything to go by, there is a market for 3rd-party firmware routers and I’m confident we’ll continue to see 3rd-party firmware for host devices whereby the manufacturer finds sensible means to comply with the device security rules (in the worst-case, we’d have some devices going back to having discrete, separately approved transmitter modules, like the mini-PCI cards in routers of the old days – but I doubt this will be necessary in all cases).

  28. @esr:
    >What I am doing, in libertarian terms, is asking the FCC to forbid router vendors from committing conversion by claiming to convey property (the router) to their customers, but denying the customers actual control of it.

    I think where people are surprised is that the way you have generally represented your view is that the law (e.g, the FCC) should not have the power to forbid conversion because it should not have the power do forbid anything because it should not exist.

    Anyways, I would say that the even if the FCC’s proposed rules did no harm whatsoever as far as routers were concerned, they would be harmful in that they would create a precedent for other branches of the government to mandate conversion in regards to other devices, and a counter-precedent for forbidding conversion.

  29. I’m sorry for being off-topic, but what do you think about “What makes a good community?” blog post by Sarah Sharp? There are< I think, some novel ideas not found in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by ESR and related, nor in "Producing Open-Source Software" by Karl Fogel.

    Ignore bleeping about "microagression", and " understand(ing) their own privilege"…

  30. Sorry, Jakub, but anyone who uses the word “privilege” in an attempt at serious discussion disqualifies themselves as being worth listening to.

  31. Ken: “Voiding the warranty”? Heh… They *claim* that sort of thing- but unfortunately for the vendor(s), at least in the US, they can’t make those claims and have them be effective.

    Implied warranty, in most jurisdictions, is such that the device must properly function as advertised and sold for the duration of the term of the written warranty. They must prove that your alterations interfered with the otherwise covered item. The Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act forbids restrictions on implied and in many cases written warranties under this sort of condition. (Hint: It runs afoul of any Deceptive Trade Practices Act if enacted by the forum state…claiming they won’t service it just because it was rooted or you popped a seal sticker is sufficient, in and of itself… It’s just more often than not completely unworthy of trying to push the issue- which is why they keep doing it…)

  32. Jay: Have to concur with your position there. It’s an automatic fail because when you do it, you’re SJW-ing and not discussing, debating, or even arguing anything. You’re just trying to “politely” tell the other party to…”SHUT UP!” at that point.

  33. ESR: Conversion’s dead on. I’m about to butt heads with a major bank over their acts thereof. Conversion’s the act of a business effectively trying to steal something, typically money, but it can be other things, to it’s own benefit and your detriment.

  34. >I think where people are surprised is that the way you have generally represented your view is that the law (e.g, the FCC) should not have the power to forbid conversion because it should not have the power do forbid anything because it should not exist.

    Oh, I think the law should exist; it’s government I’m opposed to. But given that, I can make a distinction between government actions which tend to defend the property rights that are natural in a free market (good) and those which simply increase force and fraud (bad). So, when a policeman jails or shoots a violent criminal, that is good despite the fact that the policeman is an agent of a government that I think ultimately is too dangerous to be allowed to exist.

    Similar distinctions apply to government regulation – there is some “good” regulation, though it tends to be lost in a sea of bad. I can recognize this without defending the system as a whole. Of course this runs into another question; does recognizing a “good” regulation grant the government so much power that the net effect is bad? In this case I’m not worried about that; “you may not close your firmware” is a narrow, circumscribed authority that would be difficult to abuse.

  35. Jon Brase,

    Eric-grade libertarians believe the police shouldn’t exist, yet won’t hesitate to call the cops if someone breaks into their house. Maybe AFTER they deter the burglar with a Colt .45, but still.

    Ya gotta fight with the army you have, even if that means invoking the power of government to achieve your ends. Read The Machinery of Freedom by David D. Friedman for more libertarian perspective on this.

  36. @Jay Maynard
    > Sorry, Jakub, but anyone who uses the word “privilege” in an attempt at serious discussion disqualifies themselves as being worth listening to.

    I think Sarah Sharp proposal is interesting and worth reading; it only at last “SJW utopia” level that “checking privilege” (???) appears.

    A quote (last paragraph):

    @Sarah Sharp
    > The thing that frustrates me the most is when communities skip steps. […] “We want to participate in a diversity program, but we don’t have any mentors and we have no idea what the contributor would work on long term!” So, get your basic cultural changes done first, please.

  37. > They must prove that your alterations interfered with the otherwise covered item.

    Having done so, can they hit you with the (arbitrarily declared) costs of making that diagnosis?

  38. So what happens if wireless hardware manufacturers stop using reprogrammable firmware at all – just ship with a ROM, meaning that replacing it is an expensive hardware change (and maybe banned by the FCC under the theory that you are manufacturing a new device) and don’t even bother trying to update it?

    What a victory for security that would be.

  39. Re: Sharp’s proposal:

    I’ve had some time to think on this and modified my conclusions somewhat.

    What Sharp calls “basic human decency” is perhaps more accurately called “being nice”. Americans highly value being nice; we are the culture that gave the world the phrase “Have a nice day”. To some Americans (especially middle to upper class whites from what Eric calls the coastal metroplexes), the European default of NOT being nice is highly offensive.

    What Linus does is what’s commonly called in comedy circles “roasting”: a half-joking mockery of someone with whom you have a good working relationship. Because you have a good working relationship with the target of your roast, the target knows you mean no harm. So when he cusses out a high-level kernel subsystem maintainer on lkml, it’s in the spirit of roasting that he does it, and the high-level maintainer needs to realize he committed a gaffe, fix his damn patch and move on with his life. If Linus were nice all the time, as Sarah wants him to be, then that message may not get through. He’s like the Witch from Into the Woods: “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.”

    That said, if you want to attract middle-upper class, white-ish Americans, being nice may be a good policy for your community. The Linux kernel community has consistently put out good software for 20+ years, so it may be a bit strong to call it “toxic”. Rather it’s probably better to say that the likes of Sarah Sharp are allergic to the lkml community, and are best served by avoiding it. But they should not expect it to change just to accommodate them.

    Niceness is an adaptation that helps us smooth relations between conflict-prone groups. So if a diverse community is a goal, niceness may be an important first step in that case as well. But closed, non-diverse communities can still put out great software especially if they are small.

  40. @esr
    > I view closed-source device firmware as an instance of a common-law crime called “conversion”.

    I’m not familiar with that law, so had a look and it doesn’t seem to be similar. However, irrespective of that there is a vast difference between preventing someone from using the guts of their stuff and explaining it to them. There is nothing to stop you from reading the PROMS in the hardware to see how the software works (or using a microscope to look at how the transistors are laid out on the microprocessor.) So you can control your stuff, you just have to try really hard to do so.

    I understand that sometimes you in fact cannot due to various reasons, but let’s look at the simple case first.

    I find the idea of the FDA mandating ANYTHING rather troubling. Hell I find the idea of the FDA itself rather troubling. I would be opposed to a law that says “All FDA devices must have licensed firmware”, that I could get behind, but mandating open source? I find that terrifying. Instead I suggest you advocate for WiFi manufactures to gain the benefits of open source, isn’t that your thing? For example “Why spend all that money on developing router firmware when you can just download Tomato and use that instead.” I like that a hell of a lot better than bans and mandates from big scary agencies like the FDA.

  41. >So what happens if wireless hardware manufacturers stop using reprogrammable firmware at all – just ship with a ROM, meaning that replacing it is an expensive hardware change (and maybe banned by the FCC under the theory that you are manufacturing a new device) and don’t even bother trying to update it?

    That’s why I think the FCC should mandate upgradeability.

  42. What you wrote: (see OP)

    What the FCC will hear: “Blah blah blah…I’m a hacker…blah blah blah…I could bring down the internet if I wanted too…blah blah blah…”

    Their likely response: *shrug* …some crazy lunatic hacker thinks he can bring down the internet…*click* *trash*

  43. >There is nothing to stop you from reading the PROMS in the hardware to see how the software works (or using a microscope to look at how the transistors are laid out on the microprocessor.) So you can control your stuff, you just have to try really hard to do so.

    So, suppose I bought all the property around your house, walled you in, and said “You can still get to and from your property, you just have to try really hard to do so.”

    You’re not stupid. You can figure out where this analogy is going and how it applies, and why under Anglo-American common law you plain don’t get to do that.

  44. @Jeff Read:
    > Rather it’s probably better to say that the likes of Sarah Sharp are allergic to the lkml community, and are best served by avoiding it. But they should not expect it to change just to accommodate them.

    I suspect that Sarah Sharp got infected with SJW-ism when doing Outreachy program (formerly OPW – Outreach Program for Women).

    There is nice piece by James Bottomley that LKML (or rather sub-lists) are nice (or at least nicer), attributing this at least in part to developers paid to work on OSS, as they informal represent their employees:

    http://blog.hansenpartnership.com/respect-and-the-linux-kernel-mailing-lists/

  45. > That’s why I think the FCC should mandate upgradeability.

    You can upgrade it, if you have a soldering iron. And anyway, the whole point of the FCC’s interest in this, keep in mind, is that they want to forbid you from upgrading it to add new channels or new power settings.

    Anyway, this is getting away from the conversion argument. Or do you believe that ROM (and EPROM) firmware should be totally banned, rather than only from wireless devices?

    Why not ban ASICs, too? Clearly anything that’s not an FPGA is an attempt to prevent the customer from upgrading, and therefore “conversion”.

  46. >Anyway, this is getting away from the conversion argument. Or do you believe that ROM (and EPROM) firmware should be totally banned, rather than only from wireless devices?

    It depends. If the firmware is conveyed as part of a device which the vendor represents that you own, and it makes policy decisions rather than just providing mechanism, then yes, that is conversion and should be banned. I’m OK with firmware being locked if it provides mechanism but does not make policy decisions.

  47. Okay, which category would you put something which enforces policy decisions made by the FCC (regarding acceptable frequencies and power levels) rather than decisions made by the manufacturer in?

    > I’m OK with firmware being locked if it provides mechanism but does not make policy decisions.

    We’re not talking about locked firmware anymore, really. The fact that you can’t rewrite ROM or EPROM (without special equipment in the latter case), is a consequence of the physical properties of the part they are using, not (necessarily) something they are consciously trying to enforce on you. You want the long arm of the law to reach into someone’s product designs and tell them what kind of hardware they can use. Should Torx and Philips screws be banned because someone might only own a flat driver?

    Are you going to ban pressed DVDs for the fact that you can’t erase and burn them? Only if they contain software, maybe?

  48. Just look at the current stories about VW’s diesel car firmware to see what bad firmware can accomplish. End users should and MUST have the right to install their own firmware on their WiFi routers to keep manufacturers from embedding code that causes problems or opens back doors in hardware that they’ve paid good money for. I’ve already submitted my opinion on this to the FCC.

  49. >Okay, which category would you put something which enforces policy decisions made by the FCC (regarding acceptable frequencies and power levels) rather than decisions made by the manufacturer in?

    That’s irrelevant to the present question, so I’m not going there. The FCC is not representing that it conveys you property.

    >You want the long arm of the law to reach into someone’s product designs and tell them what kind of hardware they can use.

    No, only that if their hardware incorporates software that makes policy decisions, then locking that software so the user cannot change those decisions is conversion.

    >Should Torx and Philips screws be banned because someone might only own a flat driver?

    No. That’s one of the places the distinction between policy and mechanism is relevant. Also, the cost imposed on the user by having to buy a Phillips driver is not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from the risks imposed on the user by manufacturer-installed bugs or malware.

  50. The regulation angle is what’s going to matter to the FCC, much more than security. Dealing with criminal hacking is in the FBI’s bailiwick in the States. Dealing with non-compliant broadcasting is in the FCC’s- and with that as their main motivation, they’ll evaluate options against the question, “Does this promote compliance with our regulations?” I’m not saying your position is wrong, but you base your argument on the wrong bogeyman if your aim is to scare the FCC; they worry about devices being reprogrammed to interfere with the cell network and the like.

    Upon reflection, in practice you’ll notice a public-benefit exception to the common-law crime of conversion described above. It’s not especially peculiar for systems to be difficult for the end-user to modify if they must act in a certain way for the benefit of the public. A good example of this is the breathalyser-interlock systems drunks have to have installed in their cars; the drivers still own their cars, but we don’t want them bypassing the interlock devices, so it is made difficult for them to do so. In a slightly more abstract sense, the value of a (signed) digital security certificate comes precisely from the difficulty of altering it- although I own it, and may wish it were different in some respect, the issuing authority certainly wouldn’t provide me with their private key so that I can re-sign it after making an arbitrary change. Likewise, here the regulators see a public benefit in preventing you from modifying your router to broadcast at a power/frequency/whatever that’s different from the approved default, so they require the device to be locked down with respect to reprogramming.

    If the new rules are adopted, it will happen because the decision-making authority is only responsible for a subset of the consequences. Thus, they’ll do their best to ensure they are judged well on those criteria, even if their solution under-performs by other metrics relevant to the public.

  51. “I find the idea of the FDA mandating ANYTHING rather troubling. Hell I find the idea of the FDA”

    I think you mean FCC? Forgive me, I just want to get the comments emailed.

  52. @esr
    > You’re not stupid. You can figure out where this analogy is going

    Evidently you overestimate me. I may well be stupid but the parallels are not clear at all. The way that is generally dealt with is a recognition of easements and public highways. I have no idea what that means in the context of software.

    The solution is simple — go right ahead and make open source routers and sell them to people, and when all those closed source ones get hacked and yours don’t — profit….

    Heck your routers would even be cheaper because someone else made the software for you. And cheap is always a selling point.

    You could even get Edward Snowden to be your spokesperson.

    How exactly would you implement this in your preferred anarcho-capitalism?

  53. > That’s irrelevant to the present question, so I’m not going there. The FCC is not representing that it conveys you property.

    My question was how policy imposed by a third party other than the developer fits into the policy vs mechanism spectrum.

  54. > Also, the cost imposed on the user by having to buy a Phillips driver is not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from the risks imposed on the user by manufacturer-installed bugs or malware.

    The risks of bugs or malware are irrelevant, my question was about the cost of the user bypassing the restrictions if they are purely technical restrictions (a ROM chip that cannot be programmed from the outside and must be desoldered and replaced, for example) rather than legally enforced (by the manufacturer) ones.

  55. > The solution is simple — go right ahead and make open source routers and sell them to people, and when all those closed source ones get hacked and yours don’t — profit….

    And when you’re found liable because your routers’ owners were able to “hack” [in the other sense of the word… or somewhere between] them to broadcast on an illegal frequency or too much power and it caused interference — what’s the opposite of profit?

  56. @Random832
    > And when you’re found liable because your routers’ owners were able to “hack”

    IANAL, so I’m not familiar with the particulars of liability in this case. However, clearly in any sane legal and regulatory system any liability, insofar as there really is any liability, would be on the person doing the hack.

    I have a fan beside my bed. If I take off the safety guard and sharpen the blades I don’t imagine, even in litigious America, that the fan manufacturer would be liable when it chops off my fingers. But perhaps I am being a Pollyanna here.

  57. Jessica Boxer,

    If the fan came with a separate set of sharp fan blades and an easy snap-off guard, or even instructions reading “Warning: Do not remove guard, sharpen blades, and use fan in evil genius death trap as shown in diagram below”, they might be liable.

    The FCC cracks down on easily modifiable radio hardware because the manufacturers could be skirting regulations and covertly encouraging unlicensed broadcast. They did this with CB radios in the 70s, whose manufacturers often included modding instructions in the guise of “warnings” as in the above. They’re going to do it with wifi routers too.

    Sorry, but you’re just going to have to deal with locked router firmware. The FCC is just doing its job.

  58. >IANAL, so I’m not familiar with the particulars of liability in this case. However, clearly in any sane legal and regulatory system any liability, insofar as there really is any liability, would be on the person doing the hack.

    That is correct. Under FCC rules the owner of the interfering equipment, not the manufacturer, is responsible for compliance.

    This is yet another reason locked firmware is evil. It makes compliance impossible for the user to verify, and makes him helpless if a design or manufacturing defect causes it to be noncompliant.

  59. >The risks of bugs or malware are irrelevant, my question was about the cost of the user bypassing the restrictions if they are purely technical restrictions (a ROM chip that cannot be programmed from the outside and must be desoldered and replaced, for example) rather than legally enforced (by the manufacturer) ones.

    You’re trying to ask a contextually loaded question as though the context is irrelevant and whether a restriction is “purely technical” is indisputable. I don’t accept those premises, so I’ll just say “mu”.

  60. “And when you’re found liable because your routers’ owners were able to “hack” [in the other sense of the word… or somewhere between] them to broadcast on an illegal frequency or too much power and it caused interference”

    We do what happens in the ham radio context and charge the owner with because it is obviously only the manufacturers fault if it does it with stock settings?

  61. bah. “…Charge the owner with <whatever the charge is for violating FCC Regulations > because it is obviously…”

  62. @esr
    > This is yet another reason locked firmware is evil. It makes compliance impossible for the user to verify, and makes him helpless if a design or manufacturing defect causes it to be noncompliant.

    But if the code was open it is still effectively impossible for 99% of users to be able to verify compliance. So, the alternative would be to have an outside body — the router maker for example — to certify compliance, and accept the associated liability. Which is actually an argument in the opposite direction.

    To me though the best solution is both. Let hw manufacturers certify their hardware for some routers. Let open source guys see the code for others. Let people choose what they want and accept the consequences either for good or ill, including legal sanction should they interfere with the legitimate rights of others to enjoy their property free of radio interference, in accordance with appropriate property rights. Really, I mean that is the essence of libertarianism and anarcho capitalism, isn’t it?

  63. Seems to me a lot of this falls away if we get esr to agree – as I think he will – that by “firmware” he almost entirely means “the bits that IP and other network protocols touch, and are accessible from there”, and not “the bits that tell the radio how loud to transmit and on what frequencies”.

    Making the latter lockable makes the FCC happy and go away, without having any significant impact on the security of the Internet or anyone’s LAN.

  64. (I mean, I already don’t even care about maintaining my router firmware. I run a TimeCapsule, FFS, not a Router X running openWhatever.

    But I’m perfectly happy to have the “talks to the radio” bit be in ROM or encrypted-controlled-flash, with a boring old API exposed to the upgradeable firmware bits.)

  65. Sigivald “Seems to me a lot of this falls away if we get esr to agree – as I think he will – that by ‘firmware’ he almost entirely means ‘the bits that IP and other network protocols touch, and are accessible from there’, and not ‘the bits that tell the radio how loud to transmit and on what frequencies’.”

    I doubt security is that simple. Heck, I don’t even think data transfer is that simple. Via my WiFi router’s configuration page, I can adjust the transceiver power level between 1 and 10 (whatever that means), and I have seen after-market amplifiers and high gain antennas for Wi-Fi routers. And I can’t even change its LAN IP range! Anyway, back to security: a video, while not in the slightest bit related to these devices, should make my point in about 45 seconds.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxQUKAjq-7w

    The point is, if you can explore potential vulnerabilities in a safe lock at the hardware level by putting a scope on a battery socket, who knows what might be possible with SIGINT hardware checking out the radio signals with sufficient detail, vulnerabilities that may require changes to exactly the sort of RF firmware that we’re talking about?

  66. >Seems to me a lot of this falls away if we get esr to agree – as I think he will – that by “firmware” he almost entirely means “the bits that IP and other network protocols touch, and are accessible from there”, and not “the bits that tell the radio how loud to transmit and on what frequencies”.

    I’m less opposed to those being locked, if that’s what you mean.

  67. Sigivald,

    You might be happy with a separate PHY layer with a fixed ROM that the router OS talks to and that restricts TX freq and power. So would I.

    The problem is getting the manufacturers on board. Their margins are razor thin as it is and the same economies of scale that apply to WinModems apply here: it’s much cheaper to include a dumb PHY whose baseband code lives on the CPU than a smart PHY separate from the CPU with its own logic attached. So no, the manufacturers are NOT getting on board and you will have to live with locked firmware, end of story.

  68. I didn’t know that router transmitters were controlled by software that could vary the emitted power level and frequency. I had always assumed this core attribute was an unchangeable feature of the hardware. I also think Eric’s primary concern is that malware could be used to co-opt a router in order to conduct covert surveillance or harmfully distort content transmissions. The latter would be much harder to accomplish if the software was open source. An epidemic of rouge frequency routers seems unlikely, but Snowden has shown that ubiquitous spying is commonplace.

  69. >Wow, are you really more radical than RMS?

    If I understand your question correctly, the answer might be either “No” or “Only about embedded device firmware when the vendor claims to be selling to you outright.”

  70. @ESR

    >What I am doing, in libertarian terms, is asking the FCC to forbid router vendors from committing conversion by claiming to convey property (the router) to their customers, but denying the customers actual control of it.

    But a vendor can trivially circumvent that claim by changing the contract and selling not the device, just a licence to use the device. That is how it works for software licences… unless common law is really different about physical things, that is easy to circumvent. Or would common law judges throw out something like selling a licence to use a house forever but you cannot remodel it? What if it is listed, like some beautiful 700 years old relic? Or selling the licence to use the house not forever but for 99 years? (Much of London is built on land the municipal government rented out for 99 years, people promptly forgotten that, thought they own it, and as those contracts are running about now, there are some nasty surprises. Source: a taxi driver only, sorry.)

    I think you could argue this far easier. If it is a national-security (rather, global-security) thing, the minarchist position is OK with regulating it. Right, you are an anarchist. But – and actually this a big problem with every kind of too-principled libertarianism – the principle cannot tell you where to _start_. After all the current setup of the internet cannot possibly be called the result of complete ancap market process, hence you cannot decide on principle alone whether to regulate its security or not. This is a major problem with most kinds of libertarianism: as long as regulation A exists, arguing against regulation B is not principled, because what if its goal is to counter-balances the harm of A? Who can prove the firmware market is totally not distorted by regulations, in favor of vendors? Which makes them in principle fair target to regulate. Which means, better keep politics pragmatic rather than principled and enforce open-sourcing that stuff on a pragmatic basis.

  71. >Or would common law judges throw out something like selling a licence to use a house forever but you cannot remodel it?

    Yes, there is a history of hostility to such entailments in common law. There’s a reason I don’t try to apply the conversion analysis to software that is not firmware, that is instantiated separately from a device.

    >This is a major problem with most kinds of libertarianism: as long as regulation A exists, arguing against regulation B is not principled, because what if its goal is to counter-balances the harm of A?

    I actually have argued this way about telecomms regulation, on this blog. But it’s not required to go to that level of generality in thus particular case.

  72. Obama wants to take away your WRT54GL’s!!!

    Quick!!! gO BUY THEM nOW!!!!!

  73. > Under FCC rules the owner of the interfering equipment, not the manufacturer, is responsible for compliance.

    I thought this was only true for devices designed to operate in licensed spectrum and therefore where the operator needs a license. It certainly doesn’t make sense to hold the user of a wireless router responsible for interference it generates if they haven’t done anything that could be expected to cause it to operate in a way not intended by the manufacturer.

  74. > You’re trying to ask a contextually loaded question as though the context is irrelevant and whether a restriction is “purely technical” is indisputable.

    I’m not talking about the reasoning for restrictions, I am talking about the difference between restrictions enforced by putting obstacles in your way vs restrictions enforced by claiming the right to sue you.

  75. “(Much of London is built on land the municipal government rented out for 99 years, people promptly forgotten that, thought they own it, and as those contracts are running about now, there are some nasty surprises. Source: a taxi driver only, sorry.)”

    It appears to be true:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/business/2013/08/you-do-know-when-you-buy-london-flat-youre-not-really-becoming-owner

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/9060279/Home-owners-urged-to-extend-leaseholds.html

    Great example of why we need ownership, whether we are buying homes or devices.

  76. I signed the Taht document but share your concern about that it doesn’t go far enough.

    There is a real challenge in explaining the dangers of caution on the need to embrace risk. I wrote a short note (http://rmf.vc/IPEngineersDilemma) and hope to expand on that theme.

    This is not about libertarian or not but what kind of markets are effective and how that changes. Once you accept the concept of licensing colors (spectrum) you need to protect even when we have alternatives that make such licensing unnecessary and constitutionally questionable..

  77. Radio is a case where a completely libertarian approach won’t work. Some form of centralized regulation is necessary, because the laws of physics make it an inherently limited resource. Radio devices, including wireless routers, are already heavily regulated in the US and in other countries, and there are government mandates in place.

    The question here is not whether WiFi routers will be regulated; they already are. The question is WHICH regulations are appropriate. The FCC is proposing one approach: one that will make open source software difficult or impossible to offer. Eric Raymond is proposing another: one that will require open software in routers. I think that the FCC is proposing regulations to solve a problem that doesn’t exist (interference caused by modified routers) and ignoring the substantial damage that the proposed regulations will cause. In addition to all the reasons cited by Eric Raymond, the proposal would also limit the ability of amateur radio operators to adapt WiFi equipment for their use.

    Router transmitters (as well as many others, including the ones in your cell phone) allow software control of power level because such control is important to their operation. These transmitters don’t always operate at full power; they adjust to conditions as needed to provide reliable operation while also minimizing interference. (The handheld devices also reduce power when possible to increase battery life.) Also, different countries have slightly different rules about the maximum power level that is allowed (as well as the frequencies allowed; some countries allow 2.4GHz WiFi on channels that are not authorized in the US), and implementing software adjustment allows the same hardware design to be used in multiple markets. But there is also an absolute limit on the possible power output that is imposed by the hardware design, so although it may be possible to set the power level of a router outside US limits it’s not really possible to go far beyond them without modification to the router or the use of an external power amplifier.

    In any case, the benefit of higher power output from a router is limited. WiFi communication is a two way street; increasing the router’s output without also increasing the power level of the client doesn’t accomplish much. Furthermore, WiFi is a full duplex system (that is, both ends of the link can transmit simultaneously), so increasing power at the router can actually make things WORSE. Broadband noise from the transmitter (there is always some even in the best designs) and intermodulation in the front end of the receiver (also inevitable) means that the receiver in the router may become less able to receive weak signals if the transmitter power is increased, with the result that the effective range of the router decreases. The output of the client could also be increased to get an actual gain in range, but most don’t even reach the legal maximum for reasons like cost, battery life, and RF exposure regulations (much more relevant for a phone or tablet than for a router because people are normally closer to those handheld devices).

  78. >Radio is a case where a completely libertarian approach won’t work. Some form of centralized regulation is necessary, because the laws of physics make it an inherently limited resource

    You’re wrong about this, but it’s a forgivable mistake. You’re assuming dumb radios that don’t do adaptive frequency hopping. This is a very very inefficient way to use spectrum. With smart radios the limit is still theoretically present but so high that other constraints get you first.

  79. How is adaptive frequency hopping supposed to work for a wide-area broadcast?

  80. Adaptive frequency hopping doesn’t work for broadcasts. So long as broadcasting continues to be relevant, there will be a need for frequency coordination of those. And there is only room for a limited number of broadcasts in an area.

    Broadcasting remains an efficient use of spectrum in some cases. Broadcasting the Super Bowl is a good example; a single transmission stream may have hundreds of thousands of viewers in a large media market, even with over 80% of TV households using cable.

    Emergency communications that are dependent on a lot of smart infrastructure are also a bad idea, because that infrastructure tends to fail just when you most need it. For example, putting disaster responders on a trunked radio system rather than a fixed-frequency one is a bad idea because there are more points of failure.

    There is value to having a system for communicating with the public in an emergency that uses simple receiving equipment; AM and FM broadcasting qualify. Think of 9/11 in Lower Manhattan; cell phones, land lines, and the internet were all out of service in the area, and even police radio capability was limited because many of their repeaters were on the World Trade Center. Most TV and FM broadcasting in the area was also gone. But if you had an old AM radio, you could still dig it out and get news from WCBS. I will grant that 9/11 was an especially bad case because so many eggs had been put in the WTC basket.

  81. If I’m “renting” the router and don’t own it, and it harms me, no contract can disclaim damages nor force arbitration. If I “own” the router – as-is – then I can do anything I want with it, but the prior owner can’t be held responsible. Let the manufacturers choose one.

  82. The situation with legal liability is a bit more complicated.

    If you cause harmful interference by using a piece of radio gear that has been unlawfully modified or operated in an unlawful way, the FCC can come after you and hit you with large fines. (The largest fines are reserved for interfering with broadcasters or public safety radio.) The size of the fine depends on how egregious the interference is, and compounding the offense with others such as broadcasting profanity will also lead to larger fines.

    If a piece of equipment that you are using in a legal manner causes harmful interference, they can and sometimes will ask you to stop using it; it is your responsibility to eliminate the interference. That includes equipment which was accepted by the FCC as compliant with regulations, but where your individual sample is defective. But fines will not happen unless you continue to use the equipment after they tell you to stop.

  83. >How is adaptive frequency hopping supposed to work for a wide-area broadcast?

    Not. But that doesn’t need government either. The U.S. was well on its way to developing a decentralized system of broadcast spectrum allocation based on common-law land tenure when the U.S. government aborted the development in 1934.

  84. @Shirley Dulcey
    > Radio is a case where a completely libertarian approach won’t work. Some form of centralized regulation is necessary, because the laws of physics make it an inherently limited resource.

    The laws of physics make land and water an inherently limited resource too. Economics may well be called the study of limited resources. One of the purposes of markets, and free markets in particular is the appropriate distribution of limited resources.

    There is absolutely no reason that radio spectrum can’t be owned in the same way that land or water rights are owned. Defining the boundaries of radio frequency property is a little more difficult that a farmer’s field, but probably not much more difficult than, for example, water rights or mineral rights (and nowhere near as complicated as defining the boundaries of faked up property like intellectual property.)

    Radio spectrum is already, after all, defined as a kind of pseudo type of property with government ownership and lent out to users. For example, the radio station I listen to, Mix 101 here in Chicago has the exclusive right to use the frequency 101.9MHz at some pre-agreed broadcast power level. At the moment this property right is owned by the government and lent out to Mix 101, however there is no reason why Mix 101 could not own that and manage it entirely on their own.

    If they did they could do all of the fabulous things that free markets do. Convert it into two radio channels for example, using more advanced radio technology, or sell it as a bit hauling network to improve our network connectivity. However, instead they get an allocation from the government and have to do whatever the government says. One need only look at the allocation of radio spectrum to be appalled at how poorly the big lumbering troll of the government goes about allocating it. Deeply politicized, unbelievably complex, heavily bound up by “who you know.” And BREATHTAKINGLY inefficient. To use a perfect example — as ESR has discussed software defined radios, frequency hopping etc. This is utterly hamstrung because you need to beg the government to be allowed to innovate rather than just owning the spectrum or negotiating with the spectrum owners.

    FWIW, Eric and I have crossed swords and we disagree on this (though he is way closer to me than to you), but to my thinking radio property allocation isn’t complicated AT ALL. It is a pretty simple example of the government purloining all the property and renting it back to us, and as a consequence utterly handicapping innovation. All that is required is a statutory way to define radio property boundaries and the enforcement of trespass and nuisance laws. After all we do that with other types of waves all the time — there are limits to how much sound energy my neighbor can blast into my yard, and last time I checked you can’t just shine a spotlight in my bedroom window a 3am in the morning.

  85. Read http://www.salon.com/2003/03/12/spectrum/ — the use of single frequency signal is a construct and not fundamental at all. Imagine if we applied the same reasoning to shirt colors as the way to identify people and then we called our confusion “interference” so it sounds like physics. But at a more fundamental level best efforts packets makes whjole the idea of creating a fictional property called a frequency even less tenable because we wouldn’t need the construct of pipes at all nor would we treat wireless bits differently from any other bits.

  86. Except colors don’t work the same way, despite being broadly the same physical phenomenon, because our eyes are a lot more directional (and a lot less frequency sensitive) than any radio receiving antenna can ever reasonably be.

    And “frequency” is not the thing being treated property. After all, as long as they are far enough apart (in different cities), two stations can have the same frequency.

    Ultimately that Salon author is playing a shell game and ending up with a model which, as has been pointed out, does not work for broadcasting!

    The only way to treat radio broadcasting in the same way as real property is to sharply limit allowable power levels so that the signal doesn’t leave your land.

  87. > At the moment this property right is owned by the government and lent out to Mix 101, however there is no reason why Mix 101 could not own that and manage it entirely on their own.

    And who but the government can enforce that no-one else will own the right to broadcast on that same frequency in, say, Gary (assuming the power level is high enough that it is expected that any broadcast from either city will reach customers in the other, and prevent a station in the other from operating)?

  88. @Bob Frankston – Packets won’t help. if two transmitters near you send a packet on the same frequency at the same time, you won’t receive either. And since we’re talking about broadcasting, there’s no way for any of them to know you didn’t get it, or use any kind of fancy backing-off algorithms the way ethernet adapters do, etc.

  89. @Random832
    > And who but the government can enforce that no-one else will own the right to broadcast on that same frequency

    Yes, the government indeed, since it is their job to enforce the laws of trespass and nuisance. It is also the government’s job to ensure that you don’t build a house on my land or dig my oil out of the ground. Enforcement of property rights is one legitimate function of government.

    Random832 on 2015-10-10 at 20:14:39 said:
    > The only way to treat radio broadcasting in the same way as real property is to sharply limit allowable power levels so that the signal doesn’t leave your land.

    You are confounding real property with other types of property. Many types of property don’t have geographical boundaries like this — water rights for example.

    One of the best examples of where innovation has been extremely energetic in radio technology is in the 2.4GHz supposedly junk bands. In this unregulated spectrum we have seem a transformation of the usefulness of radio to individuals. We have seen WiFi speeds go from super slow to super fast, along with BT, and all the other uses for that band.

    However, It would contend that that band is basically private property in the sense I described above. The power limitations are low enough that the signals basically stay within your house, or at least degrade significantly outside of your walls. This means that you, the property owner, control use of these bands within your real property, and that ownership is the root of this spectacular usefulness.

    Of course it is far from perfect, I live in an apartment and I can see dozens of wifi networks, but the fact is that it does work, and it works largely due to the control the individual has over this band. Of course there is leakage, and if you over transmit the FCC cops might come calling, as they should since your property right here is limited in both frequency and power.

    All rights have a certain amount of leakage. If I spray pesticide on my yard, some of it is going to leak into my neighbors. A limited about of leakage is acceptable, however, pumping gallons of toxic waste is not. Common law is pretty good at managing these types of things.

    But this band designated by the government as “junk” because they don’t regulate it, turns out to be one of the most useful chunks of frequency in the spectrum.

  90. @Jessica Boxer

    But this band designated by the government as “junk” because they don’t regulate it, turns out to be one of the most useful chunks of frequency in the spectrum.

    It’s designated junk because it is junk. 2.4Ghz is virtually unusable in many places due to congestion. Exactly as you’d expect if you don’t CONTROL the spectrum enough. lol? What is so hard to understand here? No application of will = chaos. Call it “government” or not, it’s the same shit. And it’s deliciously revealing that you call it one of “most useful chunks of frequency in the spectrium”. It really shows where your priorities are.

    @Eric

    Play nice. When government steps in, it generally fucks up – this proposed ruling being a pluperfect example.

    lol!!!! There is no civilisation without “government”, whether that be tribal elders, city states, nation states or corporations.

    Oh, I think the law should exist; it’s government I’m opposed to.

    lol. You can’t make this up. And please don’t respond to this message to “explain” to me why this utter gibberish makes sense because I already know the misconceptions you’ll try to justify it with.

  91. @Shopgirl Peril
    > It’s designated junk because it is junk. 2.4Ghz is virtually unusable in many places due to congestion. Exactly as you’d expect if you don’t CONTROL the spectrum enough.

    People have said some pretty dumb things around here, but this takes the cookie. WiFi is used everywhere and is one of the most empowering technologies of the last fifty years. The fact that it doesn’t work well absolutely all the time absolutely everywhere is entirely irrelevant. Insulin for diabetics and air transportation for travelers don’t work perfectly all the time, but I am sure glad we have them.

    Furthermore what on earth makes you think that the 2.4GHz band isn’t controlled? The whole point of my comment was that it IS controlled (and not just by homeowners but by international standards and voluntary cooperation from manufacturers.)

    Your problem is that you think that the only people who can successfully control things are governments. Which is utterly ridiculous.

    If you really think WiFi is chaos you should take a look at congress. Now that is chaos, and that is a place where one might rightly understate the case by saying “doesn’t work well absolutely all the time.” The less these congressional pompous dickheads or their regulatory lackeys do, the better off we all are.

  92. Jessica, I don’t mean to sound like a shithead, but why are you feeding the troll? :-)

  93. lol. You can’t make this up. And please don’t respond to this message to “explain” to me why this utter gibberish makes sense because I already know the misconceptions you’ll try to justify it with.

    Eric, I know you put up with a lot, but…

  94. @tz: “If I’m renting the router … and it harms me, no contract can force arbitration”
    Not yet. The way SCOTUS is going, soon nothing will be so evil as to prevent arbitration.
    I mean, not even “it’ll cost so much to arbitrate that even if we win we lose money on the whole deal” is good enough (Amex v. Italian Colors).
    (Interestingly, who dissented? The Democrats. Sotomayor recused herself; the Republicans, two of whom are rather libertarian, all agreed that you can engage in such completely evil and rude business practices. The problem with the Federal Arbitration Act is that it was written under the assumption that mandatory arbitration would be used when both parties worked together to hammer out the contract, not when one party wrote it and the other faced a Hobson’s choice; in the latter situation, arbitration clauses should be barred, which is the position taken by the Arbitration Fairness Act, supported mainly by Democrats.)

  95. 400 quatloos on this troll overstepping the line by the end of the year.

    Any takers?

  96. >400 quatloos on this troll overstepping the line by the end of the year. Any takers?

    Not a proposition I’d bet against. Still, my value commitments don’t allow me to ban the merely annoying. Or even, as in this case, the aggressively stupid.

  97. Well (as I learned over the last year), if it’s not painful occasionally, it’s not a principle, it’s just an opinion.

  98. @Jessica Boxer

    People have said some pretty dumb things around here, but this takes the cookie. WiFi is used everywhere and is one of the most empowering technologies of the last fifty years. The fact that it doesn’t work well absolutely all the time absolutely everywhere is entirely irrelevant. Insulin for diabetics and air transportation for travelers don’t work perfectly all the time, but I am sure glad we have them.

    In what way is it “entirely relevant”, you complete and utter bozo? It’s the entire crux of the issue! 2.4GHz breaks down almost completely in many places, precisely because everybody is allowed to use it! Now IMAGINE if the government loosened the regulations on this spectrum and anyone could have a 2.4GHz transmitter of whatever power. Now imagine if the government required a paid license to use the top third of the spectrum. Immediately solves the problem of keeping poor people out of my wifi. And so on and so forth. I don’t expect you to understand a word of this, since you’re an American, and Americans are _incapable_ of generalizing anything. See: the fact that you think 2.4GHz is “unregulated” (lol).

    Furthermore what on earth makes you think that the 2.4GHz band isn’t controlled? The whole point of my comment was that it IS controlled (and not just by homeowners but by international standards and voluntary cooperation from manufacturers.)

    Ugh. It’s hard to talk to someone who blatantly makes shit up. I didn’t say it wasn’t controlled. I said it wasn’t controlled ENOUGH. Starting by preventing poor people from clogging it up like a gas station toilet!

    Your problem is that you think that the only people who can successfully control things are governments. Which is utterly ridiculous.

    No, your problem is you have a laughably narrow view of the concept “government”. Don’t worry, I forgive you – it is not within the mental capacities of Americans to synthesize general concepts. A homeowner is just the government of his own house. But I can already tell you will have absolutely no way to understand this. I’m convinced Americans are incapable of thinking fluidly.

    If you really think WiFi is chaos you should take a look at congress. Now that is chaos, and that is a place where one might rightly understate the case by saying “doesn’t work well absolutely all the time.” The less these congressional pompous dickheads or their regulatory lackeys do, the better off we all are.

    Simply making my point for me. It’s amazing how backwards you have everything. There would be ZERO chaos in congress if it was run by a single dictator. I.e., a more potent form of government. In summary, learn to think.

  99. @Shopgirl Peril
    > There would be ZERO chaos in congress if it was run by a single dictator.

    Oh, I’m sorry, I get the joke now… Bit slow this weekend, lots of parties, and, you know, I’m an American and all so we always take a while to catch up.

    Post something else insane, please. It puts a smile on all our faces, and we so appreciate you dang furrenurs dancing to entertain us.

  100. @Foo Quuxman –

    > Roger Phillips… is that you?

    LOL! Perhaps – and a damned insightful guess.

    Since Our Gracious Host can track the IP address, etc. that someone posts from (and I have no doubt that he can figure out if someone is using a different address from the same ISP, etc.), he would be able to nip that troll in the bud if he needed / wanted to.

  101. @Jessica Boxer —

    > @Shopgirl Peril
    > > There would be ZERO chaos in congress if it was run by a single dictator.

    > Oh, I’m sorry, I get the joke now… Bit slow this weekend, lots of parties, and, you know, I’m an American

    small spelling error – that’s more correctly rendered as Murrican

    otherwise, +1

  102. It’s not that Yanks are slow. Are Japs and Chinamen “slow”? Is Rain Man slow? Are computers slow? Rain Man is incredibly fast, computers are even faster. It’s not a question of speed, but scope.

  103. @ John D. Ball

    Things have been a bit dull since Roger was banished, but Shopgirl Peril seems to be a worthy successor. She clearly has the “you do not understand me” meme working again. I’ve never understood why so much of the rest of the planet has such an extreme inferiority complex when comparing themselves to the US. For goodness sake, we’re building McDonalds in your country as fast as we can.

  104. @TomA What makes you think I don’t like America? Typical 1-dimensional imbecile! If we had to annihilate all but one country America would be the only thinkable candidate for survival. But there’s no denying that Americans are lacking intellectually. Eric for example, is a typical American “intellectual” – industrious and logical, but incurably rigid and ignorant. Also, America offers many opportunities for laughter because they are the best at nearly everything – including being stupid/fat.

  105. Was I the troll? If so, sorry for seeming stupid. If not, sorry for having to ask this. But the next comment after mine was Foo Quuxman’s 400-quatloo bet.

  106. >Was I the troll?

    EMF: No. It was this “Shopgirl Peril” creature, who we’re doing our best to ignore.

  107. Yeah, so am I. There was no response to my post anyway, so I couldn’t tell if anyone had taken it seriously.

  108. @esr:
    >Not a proposition I’d bet against. Still, my value commitments don’t allow me to ban the merely annoying. Or even, as in this case, the aggressively stupid.

    Child of the Web though I am, I have heard of the days of Ancient Usenet, renowned in song, and of the mighty killfile, which could effortlessly silent the most obnoxious and aggressively stupid of trolls. Recount to us a tale of that wondrous age, o wise elder, that our hearts may be uplifted by hearing of trolls smitten in days gone by.

  109. @Jon Brase: I think you can find “killfile” Userscript for Greasemonkey / Tampermonkey with WordPress-powered blog support.

  110. Pingback: Internet Heavyweights Urge FCC To Back Off Firmware Rules | The Security Ledger

  111. Pingback: Internet Heavyweights Urge FCC To Back Off Firmware Rules – The Threat Vector

  112. almost every libertarian is statist on some issue.
    Yours I guess is using the government to require manufacturers to make their hardware upgradable.

  113. >almost every libertarian is statist on some issue.
    Yours I guess is using the government to require manufacturers to make their hardware upgradable.

    I guess you missed the part where I explained that I regard locked firmware as a crime against the property rights of the buyer.

    Recognizing that we don’t presently have an alternative to using government to prevent that crime doesn’t make me statist. I’m not wealthy enough to have an alternative to government police either, but I’d still rather buy protection service in the free market than pay taxes.

  114. Then you’re statist on creating a theory of property rights which precludes selling, as-is, an object which has been made difficult to do certain things with.

  115. There is something I see not adressed here. The FCC is interested in being able to enforce compliance, not just verify compliance. How can this be achieved if Firmware is open source and user modifiable?

    Consider the Volkswagen scandal. Volkswagen cheated, but not against its customers. It fooled the government. It cheated because it wanted to sell it’s customers the cars they wanted, but that the government wouldn’t let it build.
    If the engine firemware is open source then VW can’t cheat, but their customers can. There would soon be very few emission compliant cars on the roads and probably even quite a few downright dangerous ones.

    So if firmware is open source, how do we enforce compliance?

    I don’t think that “we don’t” is going to impress the FCC…

  116. “I guess you missed the part where I explained that I regard locked firmware as a crime against the property rights of the buyer.”

    Property rights are always a bundle of rights, that may or may not contain certain rights. As long as it is clear at the moment you enter in to a contract what it is you are entering in, and you agree to it, there is no crime if you do not have certain property rights.
    For example: My ISP provides me with a router, and it is clear in the contract that this router remains the property of the ISP. It’ s what I agreed to, and the fact that I can’t upgrade the firmware on the router isn’t a crime against my property rights.

  117. >Then you’re statist on creating a theory of property rights which precludes selling, as-is, an object which has been made difficult to do certain things with.

    Don’t be silly. In principle that might be a consequentially bad theory of rights, but it isn’t statism any more than a duck is an apple. Statism is the position that government is privileged to do things that individual delegating to it their right of self-defense may not do. Keep your categories straight or you’ll just confuse yourself.

  118. >For example: My ISP provides me with a router, and it is clear in the contract that this router remains the property of the ISP. It’ s what I agreed to, and the fact that I can’t upgrade the firmware on the router isn’t a crime against my property rights.

    I agree. But we haven’t been talking about this case, have we? The FCC discussion is all around merchant routers that you can flash a WRT variant on to, because the proposed routing specifically mentions vendors showing how they prevent that.

    There is, however, another property-rights/tort argument that still applies to tied routers. Under FCC regs the individual operating the router is responsible for compliance – that doesn’t actually change just because he’s leasing it or has some “bundle of rights” other than full ownership. It’s inequitable – unjust enrichment, at the very least – if the vendor or ISP offloads the noncompliance risk onto individuals while denying them the means to verify compliance and repair breaches of it.

    Indeed, there is an equity argument that if you lock the firmware in my router you are responsible for any loss or damages I may sustain as a result of bugs in the firmware. I would be sufficiently happy with a a law or regulation that made that responsibility explicit without actually forbidding closed-source blobs, because about a nanosecond after that liability landed on them every vendor would go open.

  119. >@ESR, have you signed the “free firmware” petition to FCC?

    Not only did I sign it, I helped Dave Taht compose it and have volunteered as a press contact. What, you really think something like that could go down without me being up to my ears involved?

  120. Hmmm… from LWN.net article:

    The letter appears over a large number of well-known names, including Dave Täht and Vint Cerf (the principal authors) along with Jim Gettys, David P. Reed, Bruce Schneier, Daniel Geer, Kathleen Nichols, David Farber, Steven Bellovin, Linus Torvalds, Paul Vixie, and many more, including an obscure LWN editor. As a whole, it makes an impassioned case for free-software development as the best path toward high-quality and secure networking software.

    That’s why I asked (though I deemed it highly improbable that you were not involved in this).

  121. > In principle that might be a consequentially bad theory of rights

    And it is a novel one, which you are proposing the government should enforce.

    I also think this discussion (perhaps because it starts from the idea of the government enforcing the opposite) is mixing up “legalese which purports to forbid the consumer from doing something” vs “DRM, funny-shaped screws, epoxy, read-only ROM, etc, which makes it difficult for the customer to do those things without special tools” and that an argument against the former is not necessarily an argument against the latter.

  122. > Indeed, there is an equity argument that if you lock the firmware in my router you are responsible for any loss or damages I may sustain as a result of bugs in the firmware.

    Isn’t that the implied warranty of merchantability/fitness for particular purpose?

    I’ve also never been fully convinced by the arguments that liability for software bugs isn’t an insurable risk.

    Anyway, I don’t understand why it isn’t a viable solution to treat the whole wireless universe as untrusted and use a VPN if you need security. It costs more, but if people are willing to trade this off for cheaper routers who are you to stop them?

  123. >And it is a novel one, which you are proposing the government should enforce.

    Not really any more novel than most common-law interpretations. It just looks that way because cyber.

  124. @Random832 –

    > Anyway, I don’t understand why it isn’t a viable solution to treat the whole wireless
    > universe as untrusted and use a VPN if you need security.

    It’s worse than that. Suppose that a flaw was found on a popular (read: widely-deployed) SOHO router, such that it could be compromised, enrolled into a botnet, and used for a multi-million endpoint DDoS attack engine. You could easily dwarf anything the Low Orbit Ion Cannon could do.

  125. @Random832 –

    > they have no means to deploy their bug fix to millions of nodes

    If you look at item 3 on page 13 of the letter to the FCC, you will find:

    The vendor must supply a continuous stream of source and binary updates that must respond to
    regulatory transgressions and Common Vulnerability and Exposure reports (CVEs) within 45
    days of disclosure, for the warranted lifetime of the product, the business lifetime of the vendor,
    or until five years after the last customer shipment, whichever is longer.

    Doesn’t mean that they have to code it up – just use the usual “Update router firmware” button in the device’s web control panel to deliver fixes that any of us could provide.

  126. @John D.
    > It’s worse than that…it could be compromised, enrolled into a botnet, and used for a multi-million endpoint DDoS attack engine.

    But it is even worse that that!!!! See this great article from Jeff Atwood on the situation with SOHO routers (heck all routers.) Notice in particular that he links to a paper that explains that even HTTPS web sites are also subject to successful attacks.

    Change your passwords people….

    http://blog.codinghorror.com/welcome-to-the-internet-of-compromised-things/

  127. “Under FCC regs the individual operating the router is responsible for compliance – that doesn’t actually change just because he’s leasing it or has some “bundle of rights” other than full ownership. It’s inequitable – unjust enrichment, at the very least – if the vendor or ISP offloads the noncompliance risk onto individuals while denying them the means to verify compliance and repair breaches of it.”

    Actually under the current system the non compliance risk rests with the vendor. Notice how it’s Volkswagen that is on trial in the Dieselgate affair, not it’s customers.
    However if open source and modifieable firmware becomes mandatory (as you seem to want) vendors can indeed offload the “non compliance” risk to their customers, most of whom still won’t have the means to verify compliance…

  128. >Actually under the current system the non compliance risk rests with the vendor

    That is incorrect. You are confusing the way automobiles are regulated with the way radios are regulated. Your claim is true of cars but false of radios.

  129. Can you point me to a case where in the US someone was fined for the use of an FCC authorized product that unbeknownst to the owner behaved in an unauthorized way?

    I don’t know the details of US law, but in Europe if a device has a “CE” mark this is basically means that the manufacturere guarantees that the device has been build and performs according to the specs. If afterwards this does not turn out to be the case it is the manufacturer that will be liable, as he has sold you somethign that was unfit.

  130. K_, the FCC doesn’t fine people for using authorized products that cause interference unless they’ve been told to stop using it and kept using it anyway.

    But there’s a reason for the Part 15 boilerplate on unlicensed devices (the bit that says “this device shall not cause interference, and must accept any interference, including that which causes undesired operation”). That’s a direct quote from Part 15, which in turn is following the unlicensed radiators provisions of the Communications Act of 1934 as amended.

    If you use a device that causes interference to a licensed user, you are required to cure the interference, and if that means throwing the device in the trash, so be it. The FCC can and will fine you if you refuse such an order.

  131. I don’t know the details of US law, but in Europe if a device has a “CE” mark this is basically means that the manufacturere guarantees that the device has been build and performs according to the specs. If afterwards this does not turn out to be the case it is the manufacturer that will be liable, as he has sold you somethign that was unfit.

    Even equipment that is certified and functioning properly can be configured by end users in ways that not only cause unwanted interference but also operate outside of the certified power limits and frequency bands. The U-NII bands (commonly used for outdoor wireless internet, 5GHz Wifi, and also shared by some FAA radars) allow user-installed antenna and currently require the operator to match the radio output power and antenna gain to stay within radiated power limits. Willful violation can get you a sizable fine (http://transition.fcc.gov/eb/Orders/2011/DA-11-273A1.html) even without a warning.

    Interference with the terminal doppler weather radar system by end users with properly functioning FCC approved U-NII radios is what prompted the FCC to mandate manufacturers to build radios that automatically kill transmission when they detect TDWR activity.

    But some stuff like the historical limitation in U-NII-1 to indoor use is well outside the realm of radio manufacturer control.

  132. Possibly I’m tripping some kind of key word filter, but I’ve had 2 posts completely vanish – not even show as ‘awaiting moderation’.

    I’ll try one last time, using completely generic language and safe euphemisms.

    Our latest troll-we-all-agree-to-not-feed seems awfully reminiscent of one of the few people to actually be banned. Said person was known for being a very enthusiastic follower of a certain (in)famous philosopher.

  133. A (tentative) pat on the back for the FCC. Apparently they’re modifying their rules to require security measures specifically to prevent modification that would put the device out of compliance, not security measures that forbade any and all reflashing of firmware.

    So um, yay, go us?

    Well, not entirely. Under these new rules it may well still be cheaper to ship a locked-down unit than to ship a unit with a separate PHY that always transmitted within FCC power and freq requirements, irrespective of what was running on the CPU. So I expect consumer-grade hardware to remain locked down and require signed binary images for reflashing, while OpenWRT-capable units became available only at a hefty premium.

    But it’s something.

  134. I’m a little bit confused too because them for probably about a year now I started with my Mac Air with some took every single document picture video Everything wiped completely right out of it I think it was like he keeps having a stroke logger I’m not sure but one by one it’s went onto my Mac it when aren’t you at least I would say 15 devices Android iPhone you name it my tablet my laptop everything is infected I went back to my carrier they said it’s impossible you know I have some of the videos and everything on there also I’ve received really bad right now threats to these people at the same time you know if people were breaking into my house and like taking all the important paperwork I had and basically you know my whole life by my resumes and everything else that was around line on my account and where do you go from there at like 2 how is it possible to find the perpetrator.it’s so incredibly frustrating but these people will do to hold things over your head I felt more and never felt more like terrified to leave my house terrorize basically I can’t think of anything worse then it and it’s like when is it going to end I thought for sure this is practical joke it’s been over a year now and nothing has been solved if anybody can give me the right directions of where to go from here I would like to see this person tried to him and should be punishable by the finest extent of the law. in the past 2 months I would say I’m easy I have spent maybe $5,000.06 buying needs telephone find your router’s getting my computer fixed completely wiped from scratch nothing is helping it it comes on faster than anything but it’s also going on for my data so it’s not only the Wi-Fi I’ve also been to other companies and immediately it’s right down there what could this be does anybody know because I’m about to lose my mind it’s not fair it’s the total lack of privacy no privacy and I have a Blog I have so many pictures memories research over the past years I can’t do anything now online and so greatly appreciated I thank you in advance

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